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Photo courtesy of Burnaby Now.

Chum salmon swimming in Still Creek. Photo courtesy of Burnaby Now.

For the first time in at least half a century, chum salmon have returned to Vancouver.

There have been efforts to clean up the heavily polluted Still Creek, which flows from central Burnaby to east Vancouver, going on for a few decades.

In early November, chum salmon returned to the creek and have swam as far up as the Renfrew ravine, marking the first salmon in the city of Vancouver for “at least half a century,” according to one expert.

“Sometimes a salmon’s olfactory memory isn’t as sharp and they’ll stray off, accidentally sort of stumble in there and colonize a new habitat,” said Ken Ashley of the Rivers Institute at BCIT.

Ashley explained over the phone how the salmon could have possibly known to swim through Still Creek to spawn after so many decades.

Ashley said that chum salmon use their sense of smell to follow the same spawning route year after year. If those routes are disturbed in some way, though, they are able to use their sense of smell to find another stream suitable for spawning that may have been used decades ago like Still Creek.

“It’s a good evolutionary device for salmon to have,” said Ashley, who said it’s useful in cases where a stream becomes flooded by rain or dammed up by humans.

Another explanation for the chum’s return to Still Creek is fish hatcheries that stock streams with chum fry and eggs from fish hatcheries in order to introduce them into a wild habitat.

What was once the Lower Mainland’s most polluted waterway is now home to one of the most amazing spawning habits in the animal kingdom. The high school biology geek inside me is stoked.

Friends roll up their sleeves to help with renovations at the Commercial Street Cafe. PHoto courtesy of Nadene Rehnby.

Friends roll up their sleeves to help with renovations at the Commercial Street Cafe. PHoto courtesy of Nadene Rehnby.

Family-owned cafes on “The Drive” are popping up all over.

One of my managers, Chris, recently quit after several years of working at the Rio Theatre to open up a new business with his roommate Margot and neighbours Nadene and Pete. The Commercial Street Cafe (3599 Commercial Street) opens tonight at 7 p.m. The Tangent Cafe (2095 Commercial Drive) opened just shy of a month ago on October 12, and is owned by Nate and his husband Linda.

Commercial Street Cafe is a new endeavor for the gang, who have roots in graphic design, publication,  management, makeup, just to name a few.

“My wife and I both have a passion for good food and drink and thought this was a good way to share it,” said Nate of the Tangent Cafe.

Community ethos

It seems like both businesses got some advice for getting their feet off the ground from that song by The Beatles – no, not “I Am The Walrus!” (that song only makes sense under a certain influence anyways) – “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

“We relied a lot on family and friends to do a lot of work, like repainting chairs,” said Nate. For most of the other dirty work, they hired outside contractors.

The Commercial Street Cafe was brought to life over 5 days of sweat and love. Numerous friends and family helped Chris, Margot, Nadene and Pete repaint and refurnish the old corner store to make it into the space they were dreaming of.

The Drive

The community-oriented vibe on Commercial offers the perfect haven for indie, mom n pop cafes to thrive.

The Tangent Cafe is the product of a re-branding of the previous restaurant at that location, so Nate and Linda renovated quickly to facilitate a quick turnaround so as not to lose out on regular customers of the old business.

“It’s been decent … we’re quite busy on the weekends for brunch,” said Nate.

They live on Commercial Drive so the location was a no-brainer.

The Commercial Street Cafe is just down the road from Chris’ gang, too.

“There are lots of places like this .. [Commercial Drive] is something of a destination in the region,” said Nate.

It’s nice to see that when you get out of the downtown core, there’s more to be had than just a Starbucks, Blenz or Waves – quality and service with a smile hasn’t gone the way of the pager and let’s hope it never does!

Vancouver City Council voted yesterday to rezone land along East Hastings St. for condo development, a decision that community activists are speaking against.

The site is located at 955 East Hastings street. The Wall Financial Corporation has proposed a 12-storey mixed-use project for the site.

“It provides desperately needed social housing, below market rental, light industrial, retail which, thanks to the motion today, could include a much needed grocery,” said Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer via email.

The site was zoned as M-1 industrial land, but council’s vote today rezoned it as CD-1, or comprehensive development area.

As per Wall Financial’s plan for the development, there will be commercial/retail and light industrial at street level. It will contain 352 housing units with 23 units aimed at people on social assistance.

Anti-gentrification advocates speak out

However, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), an activist group, is opposed because they see it as the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

“We’re opposed to this project that it will have the same effect that Woodward’s had on the western part of the Downtown Eastside,” said Ivan Drury, researcher/organizer with CCAP.

Drury said that only 7% of the social housing in the development will be rented at welfare rates. While city council upholds that the development is creating social housing, Drury said that the planned development threatens 154 current SROs in the area through gentrification of the neighbourhood.

However, Councillor Reimer said there has been an interim rezoning policy for the area since March 28, 2012, and there will likely be a new rezoning policy in the near future as a result of citizen-led groups CCAP and Local Area Planning Process (LAPP).

“With the policies this development was approved under no longer in place, and control over the future policies directly in the hands of the community, it’s not possible to spark development. The planning process is the signal property owners are waiting for, not this rezoning,” said Councillor Reimer.

Sex trade workers could be displaced to unsafe areas

Another issue CCAP has with the rezoning and future development is how it may displace sex trade workers who work in that area.

“The reason they’re down there is because there are no residents down there. They’ve been pushed there by police and by the judgmental gaze of homeowners,” said Drury. “It’s still not a safe place or an acceptable way for women to be working, but they’ve created a community and they look out for each other.”

“The motion passed by council asks staff to work with applicant at the design phase to ensure it is safe for existing sex trade in the area,” said Councillor Reimer.

There are some people who say the DTES would be better if it were gentrified. An article on Vancity Buzz from September 17 says, “The proposal, if approved, will solidify the gentrification that is already underway in the eastern edge of the DTES. It would be a shame if the neighbourhood opposition and/or city council got in the way of this development. It’s exactly what the neighbourhood needs at this point.”

CCAP challenges that thinking. Through interviewing over 1200 DTES residents, they found that the marginalized people who live there feel a sense of community that’s unique to the neighbourhood. Their sense of belonging is very important and needs to be protected.

“Out of violence they’ve created systems of care, camaraderie, and systems of support, and that’s something we need to protect,” said Drury. “If we lose it we’re losing the soul of the city.”

On Wednesday, I went to the City of Vancouver’s event Finding Home at St. Andrew’s-Wesley Church. The building itself was beautiful, gothic architecture with high ceilings and stained glass.

Me and two other classmates were able to (briefly) interview Jean Budden, chair of End Homelessness Now, Councillor Kerry Jang, and DTES resident Danse Crowkiller on camera. Since the footage was for a broadcasting class assignment, we were there to get in, get our shots, and get out. Kerry Jang had some really awesome things to say about acknowledging that the homeless are people, not statistics. He reminded me how important putting a human face on an issue is.

The short interviews went great, and I got inspired to stick around and see all the speakers at the event. I was without a camera or recorder, which was a bad call on my part.

After dashing out to grab my notepad from my classmate’s car, I hurried back to the church for the rest of the event.

Patrick Oleman was the first guest I saw speak. He’s an aboriginal DTES resident. He’s been playing street soccer for three years, recently ran a marathon and is currently training for another. His success story was quite remarkable. After living in the Stanley Hotel for 7 years, he got into playing soccer on the Vancouver Street Soccer League, and eventually had the opportunity to go to Brazil with the team.

He shared a story from that time: before he departed with his team, his uncle held a prayer and granted a sacred feather to the team – he told them to find someone who inspires the entire team and give them the feather, explaining its significance in their culture. While in Brazil, they were playing a pick up game and a 10 year old boy joined in. He ended up beating a few people on the team, and his drive and spirit inspired them so they gave the feather to him.

“I’m trying to represent the ‘hood and Native people as best I can – I’m getting there,” he said.

Andrew Clark from the At Home/Chez Soi speakers’ bureau was the next who really struck me. He was another success story of someone who once had all the odds against him. He was either in prison or some other government institution from the age of 11 to 41.

The At Home/Chez Soi program is a housing-first approach to helping solve the homelessness issue run by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. By addressing basic needs like shelter, other issues can then be focused on and the root of homelessness can be addressed.

Now you’re not spending every waking hour in a line and another line,” said Andrew. He said that once you’re sheltered indoors, and that worry is no longer on your mind, you have time to notice your other issues such as any mental illnesses. It can overwhelming and it’s the first time you have time to cope with what you were too distracted to notice before.

“Success is an individual thing … I’m a success because this is the longest I’ve ever been out of prison in my life.”

Andrew went on to say, “Housing is a right, not a privilege.” People began to clap.

“It shouldn’t be something you have to fight for,” he said as the entire church erupted into applause.

Bill Quinn’s video presentation affected me the most on an emotional level. I can’t do his story justice through text. He is an Aboriginal elder from Oppenheimer Park, and his humility and wisdom moved me to tears.

He described how it felt to be ripped from his grandmother on a reservation at the age of 7 to be placed in a residential school. How he lost so much of his culture and identity, and how the schools focused so much on reforming their behaviour and Catholic prayer rather than “teaching things worth anything.”

“My life was messed up instead of getting any education.”

At 17 or 18 he was already living on the streets. However, he is now clean and sober from drink and drugs. He’s the only of his friends from residential school who has survived so long.

Far from being angry at the injustices in the world, Bill Quinn’s attitude was overwhelmingly humble and forward-looking. His demeanour expresses a faith in humanity and an outlook that’s positive and hopeful for change.

When asked how he keeps positive, Quinn recalled advice his grandmother taught him.

“Honesty. Be honest, be truthful, and things will work out fine.”

Another highlight for me was seeing one of my instructors, Alexandra Samur, along with Jackie Wong talk about their DTES Community Journalism 101 course. Someone from the course got up to read one of his pieces about waiting in the welfare line that ran in Megaphone magazine.

At the end of the night, heading home, I felt more inspired than I ever have to do something in the community to help. I pondered why this was so – it’s not as though I have been unaware until now.

I came back to what Councillor Jang had said earlier, and I realized it’s something I’ve been taught in journalism school, too –

putting a human face on an issue is the best thing you can do to make people care.

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